World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Tom Thumb (locomotive)

Tom Thumb
A 1927 replica of Tom Thumb, the first American-built steam locomotive
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder Peter Cooper
Build date 1830
Configuration 2-2-0
Length 13 ft 2 34 in (4.03 m)
Height 12 ft 9 in (3.89 m)
Fuel type anthracite coal
Boiler 27 in × 66 in (690 mm × 1,680 mm)
dia × high
Cylinder size 5 in × 27 in (127 mm × 686 mm)
dia × stroke
Performance figures
Power output 1.4 hp (1.0 kW) horsepower[1]
Operator(s) Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Tom Thumb was the first American-built steam locomotive used on a common-carrier railroad. Designed and built by Peter Cooper in 1830, it was designed to convince owners of the newly formed Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) to use steam engines. It is especially remembered as a participant in an impromptu race with a horse-drawn car, which the horse won after Tom Thumb suffered a mechanical failure. However, the demonstration was successful; and in the following year, the railroad committed to the use of steam locomotion and held trials for a working engine.[2]:11


  • Background 1
  • Design and construction 2
  • Demonstration 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


The first railroads were little more than tracks on roads: horses pulled wagons and carriages with their wheels modified to ride on the rails. Only when the development of the steam engine had progressed to the point where such an engine could be mounted on wheels could trains be moved by steam power. The first steam locomotives were built in England, the birthplace of steam power; the first locomotives in America were imported from England. Soon, however, Americans began to plan their own locomotives.[3]

Design and construction

Tom Thumb was designed by Peter Cooper as a four-wheel locomotive with a vertical boiler and vertically mounted cylinders that drove the wheels on one of the axles. The "design" was characterized by a host of improvisations. The boiler tubes were made from rifle barrels[2]:11 and a blower was mounted in the stack, driven by a belt to the powered axle.[2]:12 [4] The engine was fueled by anthracite coal.[5]

Cooper's interest in the railroad was by way of substantial real estate investment in what is now the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore. Success for the railroad was expected to increase the value of his holdings.[2]:11

Construction was carried out in the machine shop of George W. Johnson, where the 18-year-old James Millholland was apprenticed.[6] Millholland would later become a prominent locomotive designer in his own right.


The Tom Thumb replica in action.
1831 drawing of a locomotive (likely the "Tom Thumb") in Baltimore.

Testing was performed on the company's track between Baltimore and Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City, Maryland). Two tracks had been constructed, which led the owners of Stockton and Stokes stagecoach company to challenge the locomotive to a race, and on August 28, 1830, the race was held[7][8][9] (but sources differ slightly on the date with variations including August 25[10] and September 28[11]). The challenge accepted, Tom Thumb was easily able to pull away from the horse until the belt slipped off the blower pulley. Without the blower, the boiler did not draw adequately and the locomotive lost power, allowing the horse to pass and win the race. Nonetheless, it was realized that the locomotive offered superior performance.[5][7][8]


Tom Thumb was not intended for revenue service, and was not preserved, though Cooper and others associated with the railroad's early days left descriptions which enabled the general dimensions and appearance to be worked out. In 1892, a wooden model was constructed by Major Joseph Pangborn, a western newspaperman and publicist, who also had models made of many other early locomotives.[12] In 1927 the B&O hosted a centennial exhibition near Baltimore, titled "Fair of the Iron Horse," and had a replica constructed for the exhibition.[12][13] This replica followed Pangborn's model and therefore differed considerably from the original, being somewhat larger and heavier, and considerably taller (note that the dimensions given above are those of the replica). Also, instead of the blower in the stack, a much larger blower was mounted on the platform to provide a forced draft, and the support frame of the cylinder and guides was considerably different.

The replica remains on display at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum. The museum lists the replica as operational, and the locomotive makes special appearances each year.[14]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d Sagle, Lawrence (1964). B&O Power: Steam, Diesel and Electric Power of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1829-1964. Medina, OH: Alvin F. Staufer. 
  3. ^ Hamilton Ellis (1968). The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Railways. The Hamlyn Publishing Group. pp. 24–30. 
  4. ^ "First locomotive built in America". Railway Age (Simmons-Boardman Publishing): p. 58. September 2006.  
  5. ^ a b Stover, John F. (1987). History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. pp. 35–36.  
  6. ^ White, John H., Jr. (1968). A history of the American locomotive; its development: 1830-1880. New York, NY: Dover Publications. p. 455.  
  7. ^ a b "Peter Cooper's Locomotive". The Manufacturer and Builder IV (2): 32. February 1872. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Dudley, P.H. (February 1, 1886). "The Inception and Progress of Railways". Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences: 142. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  9. ^ "1830 - The Iron Horse Wins". Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved May 20, 2011. 
  10. ^ Reizenstein, Milton (1897). "II - Beginning of Construction, Baltimore to Harper's Ferry(1828-1834)". In Adams, Herbert B. The Economic History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad 1827-1853. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. p. 299. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  11. ^ Hughes, Thomas (1886). "VII - The "Tom Thumb"". Life and Times of Peter Cooper. London: MacMillan and Co. p. 100. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, Baltimore, MD. "History of the Museum." Accessed 2013-04-18.
  13. ^ Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD (2000). "The Fair of the Iron Horse." Accessed 2013-04-18.
  14. ^ B&O Railroad Museum. "Collections: Tom Thumb." Accessed 2013-04-18.
  • Thompson, Holland (1921). The Age of Invention: A Chronicle of Mechanical Conquest. Chronicles of America Series, Vol. 37. Yale University Press. pp. 80–81. 

Further reading

  • "Tom Thumb". Bulletin (The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, Inc.) (73): 48. May 1948. 
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.